NOTEBOOK: Can Pack Upset The Jackets?

NC State (3-0) returns to the field Saturday at noon looking to upset Georgia Tech (2-1) in Atlanta. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 pm, and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Saturday's game in Atlanta will mark the first meeting between NC State and Georgia Tech since 2006 and the first under Tom O'Brien. The two teams have only met 26 times on the gridiron, with the Yellow Jackets posting a 17-9 lead in the series, including a 10-3 mark in Atlanta. Since 1994, NC State has defeated Georgia Tech just twice, a 30-23 over- time win in Raleigh in 2000 and a 17-13 win in Atlanta in 2005.

O'Brien has faced Georgia Tech twice, in the first two years of his tenure at Boston College. The Eagles lost to the Yellow Jackets in Chestnut Hill in 1997, but went to Atlanta the next season and won.

O'Brien has coached against Paul Johnson twice when they both were head coaches. His BC team met Johnson's Navy squad in 2002 and 2006, with BC winning both of those contests.

For the first time since 2002, NC State has opened the season with a 3-0 mark. It marks the 18th time since the inception of the ACC that the Wolfpack has begun the season with three straight wins. It is the best opening mark for NC State under Tom O'Brien.

During his 10 years as head coach at Boston College, O'Brien led his team to four 3-0 starts.

He may be a true freshman, but in his third collegiate game Mustafa "Moose" Greene looked like a seasoned vet. In the win over Cincinnati, Greene led the Wolfpack in rushing and receiving and was named the ACC's Rookie of the Week. The Pack's backup halfback rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown and caught a team-high five passes for another 54 yards, giving him 138 all-purpose yards in the victory.

For the season, Greene leads the team with 174 yards rushing on 40 attempts. He has rushed for a touchdown in each of his first three games, marking the first time an NC State running back has rushed for a score in his first three games since Joe McIntosh did it in 1981.

NC State enters the Georgia Tech game tied for sixth nationally in turn- over margin, with seven takeaways to just two giveaways for a +5 mark. The Wolfpack didn't turn the ball over in its first two games, but fumbled twice in the win over Cincinnati.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 101 passes this season without an interception and even though the Pack is playing two freshmen at halfback, there have only been two fumbles. The Pack's success in holding onto the ball is even more impressive considering that in 2009, NC State finished the season ranked 114th nationally in turnover margin, with 25 turnovers to just 14 takeaways.

Although his streaking is a little more modest than when he did it last season, quarterback Russell Wilson is still on a pretty impressive roll. Wilson has thrown 131 passes without an INT, dating back to the Virginia Tech game last season.

In 2008-09, Wilson put together a much longer streak, the longest in NCAA history in fact, when he threw 379 passes without being picked off.

NC State has a pair of special teams defenders this season with a few things in common. One, they have both handed out several chinstrap-stretching tackles on special teams. Two, they both started off their careers as walk-ons to the Wolfpack program. Three, they both have the same last name. And four, well, they both have the same parents.

The Gentry brothers, fullback Taylor and halfback Zach, rank first and fourth on the team in special teams tackles this season. In 2009, Taylor led the team with 21 special teams' stops and 219 plays on the various special teams units. This season, Taylor and Zach have played 70 and 58 special teams snaps respectively.

Taylor, a junior, is in his third season as the Wolfpack's starting fullback and has earned a scholarship. He has never rushed the ball, but has pulled down 21 catch- es in his career and is one of just two NC State players with a pair of touchdown receptions in 2010. The coaching staff says that he is a leader in the Wolfpack huddle and has been a huge help with the young halfbacks who have seen the bulk of the season this season. Zach, a sophomore, is a halfback, but has seen action only on special teams this season.

Junior linebacker Audie Cole was the team's leading tackler in 2009, but never had he dominated a game like he did against Central Florida on September 11. Cole was credited with a dozen stops in the contest, including nine solo stops, a 10-yard sack and two other tackles for loss. He also pulled down his first career interception and forced another fumble on a play that ended up being overturned.

Cole, who had twice as many tackles as any other defender in the game (for either team) was front and center in the Wolfpack's aggressive defensive scheme, making plays all over the field. He continued in that vein in the win over Cincinnati, tallying seven tackles in 60 snaps, including a six-yard loss. He also forced a key fumble in that victory.

Cole made his tackles count. Three times, twice in the first quarter, Cole made stops on third down to force the Knights to punt. His interception was on a pass from wide receiver Nico Flores on a reverse play in the third quarter to stop another UCF drive at midfield as the Knights were attempting to rally.

Cole, who was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week and the ACC Player of the Week for his performance, is the Pack's leading tackler for the season with 20 and ranks fourth in the ACC with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Between the last practice before last year's season finale against North Carolina (Nov. 26, 2009) and the first practice of this year's fall camp (Aug. 3, 2010), 250 days elapsed. That's the amount of time that Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson DID NOT practice football.

He missed spring practice. He missed seven-on-seven drills in the summer. He missed football workouts in the Murphy Center weight room.

Instead, he was playing baseball for the Wolfpack squad in the spring and for the Colorado Rockies' Tri-Cities Dust Devils in the summer Many people have said that Wilson couldn't possibly be back to his previous form after missing so much time. In the season opener, the Pack broke the huddle with 12 men at one point, the type of thing that has been almost unheard of under Wilson's leadership. And although he threw for 306 yards in the opener, he barely crossed the 100-yard mark at Central Florida and posted the lowest completion percentage of his career, completing 10-of-30 throws (except for a 1-5 mark in his first college game versus South Carolina in 2008, when he left the game with a concussion in the first half). However, a look at Wilson's overall stats in 2010 and his performance in the win over Cincinnati might show that the 50+ days he's been back focused on football may outweigh the 250 he's missed.

He's thrown for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in two of the three games this season. He's thrown 101 passes without an interception this season (131 in a row dating back to last season). He ranks third in the ACC this week in pass- ing average (248 yds/game) and third in total offense (270.7 yds/game). And most importantly, the Wolfpack posts a 3-0 record.

Senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski set an NC State record for consecutive point-after-touchdown makes in the Sept. 4 win over Western Carolina. He added to that streak in the next two contests before missing his third of four attempts in the win over Cincinnati Czajkowski connected on 83 straight, dating back to the 2008 campaign. He now ranks second in NC State history in PAT percentage, as he has hit 88 of 90 tries for his career, a .978 mark. Czajkowski ranks fourth in school history in field goal percentage (.853), ninth in field goals made (29) and fifth in total PATs (88).

Thank goodness for Jake Vermiglio! Heading into last week's game versus Cincinnati, the senior offensive tackle had started 21 games for his career. That tally was more than double the total of the other four starting offensive linemen com- bined! The other four players who started that contest and who are listed as starters for the Georgia Tech game, had combined to start eight games prior to the win over the Bearcats.

Gary Gregory, who subbed for the injured Mikel Overgaard at right tackle last week, started his first career game against UC. Andrew Wallace had started four, and guard Zach Allen and center Cam Wentz had started two before getting the nod last Thursday night.

The return of R.J. Mattes should help the experience factor on the offensive line greatly. Mattes, who started eight games at guard before suffering an ACL injury at Florida State last season, played for the first time since the injury last week. He came in for 39 snaps and graded out surprisingly well considering how much time he had missed.

The 2010 version of the Wolfpack football team has a central theme: YOUTH. Of the 105 players listed on the roster, 60 (57%) are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores (redshirt or true).

Although the youth of this year's team might be a concern early in the season, it certainly bodes well for NC State's future. On the depth chart for Georgia Tech, 43% (19) of the 44 players listed on the offensive and defensive two-deep charts are either true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores.

There were 30 players on the Wolfpack squad who played for the first time in an NC State uniform in the win over Western Carolina.

Six true freshmen saw action in the season opener for NC State, while one, offensive tackle Robert Crisp, started the Wolfpack victory. In addition to Crisp, defensive backs David Amerson (CB), D.J. Greene (FS) and Dontae Johnson (BS) saw action. Freshman A.J. Ferguson, who actually graduated from high school in 2009 but joined the team in January of this year, saw action on the defensive line, while true freshman Mustafa Greene played halfback.

In addition to those six true freshmen, a whopping 24 other players played for the Wolfpack for the first time. Transfers David Akinniyi (Northeastern) and Mikel Overgaard (Snow College) both started, while Ellis Flint (Hofstra) kicked off twice.

Ten redshirt freshmen got into the game as well: Darryl Cato-Bishop, Ryan Cheek, Duran Christophe, Donald Coleman, Rickey Dowdy, Dean Haynes, Sam Jones, Everett Proctor, Hans Rice, and Anthony Talbert. Tight end Mario Carter, who redshirted as a freshman and then missed last season with an injury also played, as did linebacker William Beasley.

And finally nine walk-ons who had never played before got into the contest: Donovan Counts, Jackson Diaz-Cobo, Zach Gentry, Tyler Kloc, Travis Leggett, Curtis Martin, Seth Pavarnik, Cameron Ray and Keegan Ray.

Of the nine starters on the offensive and defensive lines, seven got their first career starts at NC State in the season opener. Four of the five starting offensive linemen started for the first time: tackles Rob Crisp and Mikel Overgaard, guard Zach Allen and center Cam Wentz. On the defensive line, end David Akinniyi joined tackles Natanu Mageo and Brian Slay as first-time starters for the Wolfpack.

The only first-time starter that wasn't on one of the two front lines was Dean Haynes, who started at halfback.

Although a 5-7 record in 2009 wasn't what the NC State coaching staff was hoping for, a closer look at the scores shows that the Wolfpack wasn't too far away from being 8-4. Three of the team's losses last season were by six points or less: a three-point loss at Florida State, a six-point loss at Wake Forest and a four-point loss to South Carolina to open the season.

In 2008, the Wolfpack posted a 6-7 mark, winning four straight games to close the regular season and earn a bowl bid. Four of the seven losses that season were by nine points or less: a seven-point loss to BC, a nine-point loss to Florida State, a three-point loss to Maryland and a six-point loss to Rutgers in the Bowl.

In all, of NC State's 14 losses in the past two seasons, seven have been by nine points or less, five by six points or less and three by four points or less.

Heading into the season, wide receiver T.J. Graham had just one touchdown reception for his career (although he had two scores on returns). After one quarter in 2010, he had three TD grabs. Graham scored on 26- and 25-yard passes from Russell Wilson in the victory over Western Carolina, gaining a career-high 96 yards on a career-high six receptions. He also had a 50-yard kickoff return.

Despite missing five games due to an injury last season, return man extraordinaire T.J. Graham ranks fourth in school history in career kickoff return yardage and he is only a ju- nior. His 1,751 yards is the 17th-best mark in ACC history as well.

Graham already holds the school records for single-game kickoff return yards (202 versus Duke in 2009) and single- season kickoff return yards (1,028 in 2008). Two of his returns have been for touchdowns.

For his career, Graham posts 2,537 all-purpose yards. He started three of the seven games he played in last season as a receiver, before his season ended due to a stress fracture in his leg.

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